Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam says his players are excited for Friday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final against the Dragons.
Victory over the Welsh team, who are coached by Dean Ryan – Lam’s former Premiership title-winning playing colleague – will secure a quickfire return to Ashton Gate and a semi-final appointment next week with Bordeaux-Begles or Edinburgh.
Bristol’s position in the Premiership – they cannot finish lower than fifth – means that Champions Cup qualification has already been secured for next season.
And Lam sees the Dragons encounter as key in terms of preparing Bristol for what lies ahead.
“We had clear goals at the start of this season,” rugby director Lam said.
“We said we wanted to win the Challenge Cup, and our minimum goal in the Premiership was top six, and now we can’t drop below fifth, so it is a massive achievement in the sense of where Bristol has come from.
“I said we want to be a Champions Cup team, and we’ve qualified for that now. I didn’t want to get to what some teams have done in the past and get to the Champions Cup and (have) gone ‘this is tough’.
“We are training all our guys to understand that we have to manage Premiership and Champions Cup rugby, and this is a dress-rehearsal for us.
“There are no second chances this week. If we lose on Friday, it’s gone. This competition is massive and we are trying our best to win it.
The @ERChallengeCup is 🔙
Quarter final incoming this weekend 🛬
What was your highlight of the pool stages?
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) September 16, 2020
“What’s available this week is a semi-final. Bonus points, all of that, doesn’t matter. We just need one point more than the Dragons, which is all that matters, to get into a semi-final.
“We are pumped for Friday. Everyone is really excited. It’s quarter-finals rugby, and excitement is a good word for it.”
Lam and Ryan played in the same back-row when Newcastle took English rugby by storm and won the inaugural Premiership crown 22 years ago.
They remain firm friends, and Lam is expecting a major challenge from the Dragons, who will be playing their first game for three weeks, while Bristol have crammed seven into the last 32 days.
Lam added: “Dean and I are very good mates. I know him well and the way he thinks.
“They will be highly-motivated, highly-physical, and I am imagining they will pick all their international players, all the players that can do a job for them in a one-off game.
“There is a lot of talent in their group. We are expecting physicality, a real tough game, and making sure we are prepared for that has been key this week.
“Dean is a real student of the game. He understands the game. The way he motivates people and brings the best out of them is a big thing.
“You look at the group, they’ve got (Aaron) Wainwright, (Ross) Moriarty, Rhodri Williams, Jamie Roberts, (Nick) Tompkins, Sam Davies, Jonah Holmes, players who have played for Wales, players who have played for the British and Irish Lions.
“They’ve got players who can pull out a big game.”